T’ai Chi Ch’uan (literally “supreme ultimate fist”), commonly known as T’ai Chi, Tai Chi, or Taiji, is a Chinese martial art which is known for the claims of health and longevity benefits made by its practitioners and in some recent medical studies. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is also known as a soft style martial art, an art applied with as complete a relaxation or “softness” in the musculature as possible, to distinguish its theory and application from that of the hard martial art styles which use a degree of tension in the muscles.
In T’ai Chi, one is taught awareness of one’s own balance and what affects it, awareness of the same in others, and appreciation of the practical value in one’s ability to moderate extremes of behavior and attitude at both mental and physical levels, and how this applies to effective self-defense principles.
While its practitioners consider it primarily a style of martial art, T’ai Chi Ch’uan is also called an art of moving meditation. T’ai Chi theory and practice is also formulated in agreement with many of the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Besides general health benefits and stress management attributed to beginning and intermediate level T’ai Chi training, many therapeutic interventions along the lines of traditional Chinese medicine are taught to advanced T’ai Chi students in traditional schools. T’ai Chi Chuan as physical training is characterized by its requirement for the use of leverage through the joints based on coordination in relaxation rather than muscular tension in order to neutralize or initiate physical attacks. The slow, repetitive work involved in that process is said to gently increase and open the internal circulation (breath, body heat, blood, peristalsis, etc.). Over time, proponents say, this enhancement becomes a lasting effect, a direct reversal of the physical effects of stress on the human body. This reversal allows much more of the students’ native energy to be available to them, which they may then apply more effectively to the rest of their lives; families, careers, spiritual or creative pursuits, hobbies, etc.
The study of T’ai Chi Ch’uan involves three primary subjects:
- Health – an unhealthy or otherwise uncomfortable person will find it difficult to meditate to a state of calmness or to use T’ai Chi as a martial art. T’ai Chi’s health training therefore concentrates on relieving the physical effects of stress on the body and mind.
- Meditation – the focus meditation and subsequent calmness cultivated by the meditative aspect of T’ai Chi is seen as necessary to maintain optimum health (in the sense of effectively maintaining stress relief or homeostasis) and in order to use it as a soft style martial art.
- Martial art – the ability to competently use T’ai Chi as a martial art is said to be proof that the health and meditation aspects are working according to the dictates of the theory of T’ai Chi Ch’uan.
T’ai Chi training involves learning solo routines, known as forms, and two person routines, known as pushing hands, as well as acupressure-related manipulations taught by traditional schools.
Teachers say the study of T’ai Chi Ch’uan is, more than anything else, about challenging one’s ability to change oneself appropriately in response to outside forces. These principles are taught using the examples of physics as experienced by two (or more) bodies in combat. In order to be able to protect oneself or someone else by using change, it is necessary to understand what the consequences are of changing appropriately, changing inappropriately and not changing at all in response to an attack. Students, by this theory, will appreciate the full benefits of the entire art in the fastest way through physical training of the martial art aspect.
Wu Chien-ch’üan, co-founder of the Wu family style, described the name T’ai Chi Ch’uan this way at the beginning of the 20th century:
“Various people have offered different explanations for the term T’ai Chi Ch’uan. Some have said: ‘In terms of self-cultivation, one must train from a point of movement towards a point of quiescence. T’ai Chi comes about through the harmony of yin and yang. In terms of the art of attack and defense then, in the context of transformations of full and empty, one is constantly inwardly latent, not outwardly expressive, as if the yin andyang of T’ai Chi have not divided apart.’ Others say: ‘Every movement of T’ai Chi Ch’uan is based on circles, just like the shape of a T’ai Chi symbol. Therefore, it is called T’ai Chi Ch’uan.’ Both explanations are quite reasonable, especially the second, which is fuller.”
From the online open-source encyclopedia, Wikipedia.